A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. (October 2019)
|Born||1987 (age 33–34)|
|Education||Sacred Heart College|
|Known for||Co-founder and CEO of Canva|
|Net worth||A$7.98 bn (AFR 2021)[note a]|
Melanie Perkins was born in Perth, Western Australia. She is the daughter of an Australian-born teacher and a Malaysian engineer of Filipino and Sri Lankan descent. She attended Sacred Heart College, a secondary school located in the northern Perth suburb of Sorrento. At high school, Perkins had aspirations of becoming a professional figure skater and would routinely wake up at 4:30 am to train. By the age of fourteen, she had started her first business, selling handmade scarves at shops and markets throughout Perth. She credits this experience with developing her entrepreneurial drive as ‘she never forgot the freedom and excitement from building a business.’
After high school, Perkins enrolled at the University of Western Australia, majoring in communications, psychology and commerce. At this time, Perkins was also a private tutor for students learning graphic design. She noticed the difficulties students had in learning design programs such as Adobe Photoshop, where it would often take students a semester at university to be introduced to basic features of these complex design programs. Perkins thought there was a business opportunity in making the design process easier. Her idea was to make a design platform where no technical experience was required. She dropped out of university at age 19 to pursue her first business with Obrecht, Fusion Books.
Fusion Books was founded by Perkins and Obrecht in 2007. Fusion Books allowed students to design their own school yearbooks by using a simple drag-and-drop tool equipped with a library of design templates that could be populated with photos, illustrations, and fonts. Originally, Perkins wanted to develop software that made the entire design process easier but due to the competition with large companies and her lack of resources, she concluded ‘it did not seem the logical thing to do’. Perkins's mother was a teacher who would also co-ordinate the school yearbook. Perkins saw how much time was required to design a yearbook and thought the high level of consumer friction would make yearbooks a good niche to test the idea for Canva.
Started in the living room of Perkins's mother, Obrecht would cold call schools in an attempt to get new clients for Fusion Book. Their parents would often help with printing the yearbooks. Over five years, Fusion Books grew into the largest yearbook company in Australia and expanded into France and New Zealand.
Formation of Canva
Perkins and Obrecht were originally based in Perth. Perkins claims that she was rejected by over 100 local investors in Perth.
In 2011, prominent investor, Bill Tai visited Perth to judge a start-up competition. Perkins and Obrecht pitched Tai the initial idea for Canva over dinner. There were also other venture capitalists present including Rick Baker from Blackbird Ventures. They received no funding but became regular fixtures at gatherings hosted by Tai for investors and start-up founders. Some of these gatherings took place in Silicon Valley where Perkins and Obrecht met Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps. He expressed interest in the idea but told the founders to ‘put everything on hold’ until they found a tech team of the calibre required. Rasmussen then became the tech adviser to the business where he introduced Perkins and Obrecht to Cameron Adams, an ex-Google employee with the relevant technical expertise. Adams was initially not interested in joining the business as he was starting his own business called fluent.io, software attempting to disrupt email. Adams was in Silicon Valley trying to raise funds for his start-up when Perkins sent him another email asking if he wanted to join the business. After that email, he agreed to join Canva, becoming its third founder and chief product officer.
Women in start-ups
There was controversy surrounding the gender disparity in the technology industry as well as amongst start-ups, with one in four start-ups founded by a female. Perkins is amongst the 2 percent of female CEO's of venture-backed companies. However, when asked about gender in the media she has refrained from making comments saying she prefers to focus ‘on what she can control’. Perkins has implemented policies at Canva that eliminate bias in the hiring process, that has resulted in Canva obtaining 41 percent female representation,[of what?] significantly higher than the industry average of 28 percent.
Perkins took an interest in kite surfing when she discovered many prominent venture capitalists use this as a way to network with founders. She would regularly kite-surf with venture capitalist Bill Tai. Perkins has also travelled the world extensively and credits a trip to India as a life-changing experience.
In 2019, Obrecht proposed to Perkins on a holiday in Turkey's backpacker-friendly Cappadocia region. The engagement ring was $30. The couple have been critical of materialism with Obrecht stating ‘what is the point of hoarding stuff’. They have expressed a desire to donate most of their fortune to charity. Perkins and Obrecht married in January 2021 on Rottnest Island.
In 2020 Forbes named Perkins as one of the world's "Top Under 30 of the Decade". Perkins first appeared on The Australian Financial Review Rich List in 2020 with a net worth of A$3.43 billion.[note a] As of May 2021[update], The Australian Financial Review assessed her and Obrecht's joint net worth as A$7.98 billion, on the 2021 Rich List; making them the tenth wealthiest Australians.
Australia's 50 Richest
|Rank||Net worth (A$)||Rank||Net worth (US$)|
|2019||n/a||not listed||n/a||not listed|
|2020[note a]||26||$3.43 billion|
|Has not changed from the previous year|
|Has increased from the previous year|
|Has decreased from the previous year|
- ^[note a] : Perkins' net worth is assessed in Financial Review Rich List as being held jointly with her spouse and business partner, Cliff Obrecht.
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